Showing posts with label mythology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mythology. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Myths versus truth

In my recent blog post entitled Children's books [display], I indicated that Richard Dawkins has a book for children coming out soon, on the theme of evolution. Last night, he was interviewed on this subject by the BBC.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What can we talk about in 2011?

Critics might say that my last blog post, entitled Highway called Pacific [display], concerning an ordinary road accident in Australia, belongs to the category of things we write about when we're not smart enough to imagine any better subjects. Maybe that criticism is justified… although I hasten to reassure my readers that I never feel as if I'm running out of stuff to talk about in my Antipodes blog. On the contrary, the constant problem consists of determining to what extent my readers will, or will not, be interested by my reflections on the various domains that concern me: life at Gamone, computing (my life-long profession), the Richard Dawkins world-view, genealogy, creative writing, etc.

In France, journalism on a par with my blog article about the tanker accident on the Pacific Highway, is designated as "crushed dog" reporting. Young journalists, upon joining a rural newspaper, are asked to cover events such as dogs that got run over on the local roads… and, by extension, all sorts of local accidents. I hasten to add that my Pacific Highway article deals with the spectacular death, not of an animal, but of an anonymous truck-driver. And, when his identity emerges, I would like to mention it on an updated version of my blog post. His accident affects me in that he died, at the commands of his B-double monster, on a rural road—described stupidly as a "highway"—that is strictly fit (by today's safety standards) for bikes only.

Meanwhile, there's another animal that often jumps onto the pages of newspapers at this season every year, when most honest Christian citizens are gorging themselves with exotic foodstuffs and getting drunk. The animal in question is the Loch Ness Monster.

This fabulous beast spends most of its prehistoric time down at the bottom of the dark waters, but it emerges during periods of media inactivity at the surface of Loch Ness. In other words, if you see an article about the Loch Ness Monster, chances are that there's fuck-all to talk about in the media.

During the present days of journalistic lassitude, another terrifying monster has emerged in the French press: the Shroud of Turin, alleged to have been wrapped around the sacred body of Jesus.

Serious historians have known for ages that this medieval cloth, with its curious symmetrical stains, is no doubt a clever piece of skulduggery that could have been produced by myriad techniques, known and unknown. Meanwhile, it's utterly ridiculous to imagine that this cloth might have received some kind of photographic imprint of the crucified body of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. One would have to be crazy to accept such tripe. But there exist indeed hordes of crazy individuals—known as Roman Catholics—who are prepared to believe in such bullshit. And lazy journalists, in this empty season, can easily tune in to such folk to create superficial media buzz.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My bunyip has broken a leg

In the following photo, I refer to the beige stones on the right, propped up against the wall of my house, as my bunyip. (Some readers might not know that bunyips are mythical Australian beasts respected by Aborigines. These creatures inhabit murky water holes and creeks called billabongs.) To the left of the big bunyip, there's a baby bunyip.

My dog often detects the smell of a lizard hiding in the narrow space between the big slab of rock and the wall.

Sophia is disgusted to think that our bunyip might use its mass and power to protect a cowardly lizard. Besides, if Sophia ever traps such a lizard as it emerges into the open air, she punishes the reptile (the lizard, not the bunyip) with instant death.

Well, this morning, as I was taking these photos, I noticed a wide crack in the bunyip's hind leg. And, when I rolled over the block of rock, I was sad to see that it had split into two fragments.

This local variety of marlstone (called marne in French) is relatively fragile. When moisture in cracks turns to ice, and then melts rapidly as a consequence of a sudden rise in temperature, a rock can split just as cleanly as if it had been struck by a stonemason's chisel.

Talking about bunyips, I've been looking into the idea of using this mythological beast as a metaphor for the countless mysterious "things" in which humans, over the centuries, have believed... without ever coming up with firm evidence for their existence. For a legendary bunyip to earn recognition as a real creature, all that is necessary is a validated sighting. In other words, it's relatively simple to prove empirically that a particular bunyip exists. For example, these photos prove beyond doubt that my marlstone bunyip with a broken leg exists just as truly as Sophia and I exist. On the other hand, it remains logically impossible to ever prove that a particular bunyip—such as God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster—does not exist. And that's why people can continue calmly to believe in bunyips until the end of time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Great Viking god

As I've often pointed out, Y-chromosome tests have revealed that my haplogroup is R1b1b2a1b5, which means that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool European. Unless there was an adoption somewhere up the track, my Skyvington surname surely takes me back to a Norman companion of the Conqueror, whereas my grandmother's Pickering surname takes me back with a high degree of certainty to the Conqueror himself, in person. Although I've always enjoyed reading about the fabulous myths of Egypt and Greece and the profound legends of Judaism and Christianity (and still enjoy this recreation), I've never really "felt"—at a gut level, you might say—that my elders belonged to the tribes who produced such stuff. Never was this feeling stronger than when I used to visit Israel regularly, in the late '80s and early '90s. With respect to all the various peoples and cultures on the edge of the Mediterranean, there's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I'm a total outsider. I've devoted a lot of energy to studying both Modern Greek and Hebrew, and I would love to imagine that one of my ancestors might have been a Sephardic Jew who studied algebra in the great library of Alexandria, before moving across to teach the Kabbala in Thessaloniki. But I know that such thoughts are fairy tales. Noel Coward used to sing that "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". Seeing the way my skin turns crimson on such occasions, it's obvious that none of my ancestors used to hang around the Mediterranean or the deserts of Arabia and Northern Africa. As people in France might say: Billy and the Bedouins are two distinct entities.

Now, I've only navigated for a year or so in a wooden sailing boat (the Zygeuner, out in Fremantle), and I've never got around to plundering villages and raping maidens. Still, I often feel as if I have a Viking soul (if ever these fellows had such things). And a corollary of this feeling is my spontaneous admiration of the exploits of a good old Norse god such as Thor.

So, you'll understand why I was so thrilled to come across an excellent article on this subject written by a bright Scottish lass named Muriel Gray [display]. Insofar as my pagan heart still stirs to the soothing roars of thunder, maybe it's a mistake for me to describe myself as an atheist. I'll have to check whether there's maybe some kind of church in America that worships these archaic gods. I'm sure there must be. On the other hand, when I was working on the typescript of a novel about Master Bruno (founder of the Carthusian monastic order), I once tried to acquire a basic understanding of the legends of the Germanic Nibelungen (in which young Bruno, in medieval Cologne, was no doubt bathed), which strike me as the most confused shit I've ever encountered. So, maybe it would be wiser if I were to remain a pious old-fashioned atheist, devoid of fancy ribbons and bows.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shockumentary film

In 1962 [the year I arrived in Paris], I was greatly impressed by a weird and notorious Italian movie, Mondo cane [dogs' world], which presented viewers with an anthology of all kinds of exotic and more-or-less shocking cases of human behavior throughout the world. Part of the charm of the movie came from its romantic theme music: the famous song entitled More [play].

It was in this film that I first heard of a fabulous belief system in the Pacific island of Vanuatu: the so-called cargo cult, whereby the natives had transformed their recollection and interpretation of recent military US military operations in the region into the foundations of a mythical religion. Their adoration of a mysterious American hero known as John Frum is amazing.

An article in Télérama reminds me that documentary films have been produced recently on this fabulous subject. The idea that the great US war machine could give rise to a religious cult, with all the appropriate symbols and iconic paraphernalia (including mock weapons and aircraft), appears to me as a modern page of Greek mythology.